Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version
THE NOVEL - SUMMARY AND NOTES
Chapter 11 concludes Machiavelli's treatment of the types of principalities and describes how ecclesiastical, or church, states may be obtained either by courage and talent or by good fortune. He also traces the evolution of the Roman Catholic Church in Italy in terms of its acquired power.
Although ecclesiastical principalities are achieved through courage and talent or good fortune, they are sustained by the ancient laws of religion, which are so powerful and of such quality that the principalities maintain themselves no matter what their princes do. These are the only princes who have principalities without having to defend them and who have subjects without having to govern them.
These ecclesiastical principalities, says Machiavelli, are the only ones that are secure and happy. Because they're under the direction of that supreme wisdom to which human minds cannot attain, and are sustained by the Divine Power, Machiavelli says that he prefers to abstain from discussing them, to avoid appearing foolish and presumptuous.
Some readers find this chapter patronizing to the Roman Catholic Church. Machiavelli's other works, especially The Discourses, reveal his hostility to the Church's political power. Why does he appear complimentary here? One reason may be his desire to win favor with the Church and, perhaps, to secure his own pardon. Pope Leo X, whom he mentions in the last paragraph of the chapter, was the son of Lorenzo the Magnificent and the uncle of Lorenzo de' Medici to whom The Prince is addressed. Could this help to explain Machiavelli's praise? Later, Machiavelli displays a more characteristic attitude toward the Church, when he condemns it for not taking the lead in trying to unite Italy. (In fact, elements in the Church worked against political unification.) Look for his shifting point of view as you read the later chapters, and try to explain his conflicting attitude toward the Church.
Machiavelli now turns his attention to the Catholic Church during the time of Alexander VI and examines some of the reasons why the Church became such a powerful influence.
At the point in time where Machiavelli takes up his discussion, Italy was divided under the rule of five city-states: Rome, Naples, Milan, Venice, and Florence. No one city-state was powerful enough to conquer the other four, so they struggled constantly for supremacy. As a consequence, the pope lacked the ability to execute his rule as a powerful figure. Using the opportunity of the French invasion of Italy, however, and the leadership of his son, Cesare Borgia, Alexander VI succeeded where other popes had failed-showing, says Machiavelli, what a pope could accomplish with the money and power of the Church. He conquered territory and added to the Church's wealth. After Alexander's death, Cesare Borgia was unable to maintain his father's vast holdings, and the Church acquired them.
Pope Julius II thus inherited a legacy of power, wealth, and influence that made his reign formidable. Julius not only continued the exploits of Alexander, but also went further. He resolved to acquire the city of Bologna, to ruin the Venetians, and to drive the French out of Italy-in all of which he succeeded. This was even more praiseworthy, asserts Machiavelli, inasmuch as he did these things not for his own glory but for that of the Church. Julius also restrained the Orsini and Colonna factions-who continued to resist papal power-within the limits in which he found them when he became pope. But Julius couldn't quiet the feuding cardinals of the Church. They stirred up rebel factions in Rome and elsewhere and forced the barons to protect them. Thus, says Machiavelli, the ambition of these prelates gave rise to the discord and turmoil that followed.
Machiavelli concludes his review of the Roman Catholic Church-a topic he said he wouldn't discuss at the beginning of the chapter-by pointing out that its current leader, Pope Leo X, has profited by Alexander's legacy as well. It is Machiavelli's wish that Leo will be able to maintain the Church's power and influence and that he will make the Church greater and more venerable still by his goodness and other infinite virtues.
NOTE: MACHIAVELLI AND RELIGION
In The Discourses, Machiavelli says that the princes of the Church have failed to keep faith with the people. Although the city of Rome was still the nominal center of faith, the truth is that through the "bad example" of the Roman Church, the land "lost all piety and all religion." The outcome of what Machiavelli calls this "scandal" is that the Italians have become the most corrupt religious people in Europe. They've lost their liberties, forgotten how to defend themselves, and allowed their country to become "prey" to whomever wishes to assault her.
In The Discourses Machiavelli also praises the pagan religion of the ancient Romans. Roman religion helped promote the cause of civic greatness and instill civic pride. It taught the people to prefer the good of their community to anything else and promoted the spirit of self-sacrifice in the interest of the state. The current climate of religion, on the other hand, says Machiavelli, has weakened society by glorifying humble men; by setting up as the greatest goods humility, misery, and contempt for all things human; and by placing no value in individual strength of body, grandeur of mind, or faith in common citizenship.
The leaders of the Church whom Machiavelli mentions in The Prince to support his views on the Catholic Church's acquired power seemed more active as statesmen and military leaders than as priests. Machiavelli may have had an ulterior motive, therefore, in choosing them as examples. Alexander VI was Cesare Borgia's father; Leo X was the uncle of Lorenzo. But why choose Julius II? Julius, of all three popes, was alone able to use his power to drive out the French and suppress the rebellious city-states. Is Machiavelli holding up Julius's image as a reflection for Lorenzo? It would be another subtle hint from Machiavelli that Lorenzo must assert himself and move quickly to liberate Italy.